Wage Radio

I will always remember – very fondly – the first time I ever set foot on the property at 711 Wage Drive Southwest in Leesburg, Virginia. It was a warm, sunny July morning in 1997, and I’d driven all the way from Minnesota – stopping along the way only to get my used car fixed and to take a couple of cat naps. I left behind pretty much everyone and everything I ever knew or did, and looked forward to a completely new life in broadcasting in Northern Virginia. As I pulled into the little parking lot at the end of Wage Drive, the image of the one-story, rambler-style building – sheltered under the huge evergreen on the east side, dogwoods out front and gone-to-seed apple trees out in the yard – forever-more created this fantasy for me of the old-time radio station – something out of my hometown in southern Minnesota – yet having the flavor of Mayberry – complete with Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Fife.

My activities – based out of this little brick building within earshot of the football field at Loudoun County High School – put me into contact with amazing individuals at every turn – exceptional people who made deep impressions – whose spirits I hope to carry to the end of my days. I had the great fortune – because of my opportunity as the last News Director at Wage Radio (1997-2007) to at least feel like I knew and served each individual in Loudoun County: The 10’s of thousands of school kids enrolled in public education (not to mention the teachers, administrators and School Board), County employees – from the event organizers to members of the Loudoun Supervisors – all the Mayors in each of our incorporated Towns – as well as their Councils, leaders in business and technology, agriculture – and the growing army of personnel involved in local public safety; those were the larger groups. Others were unique individuals – with no peer in their community – and sadly – they are gone – at least in the physical sense: people like Colonel Michael Grenata (Veteran of World War I), B Powell Harrison (a true Virginia Gentleman who gave the term ‘preservationist’ a great deal of credibility), AV Symington (former part-owner of Wage and benefactor of Temple Hall Farm), and Frank Raflo (an irascible storyteller and local politician).

So now, when I walk the grounds of this little brick building in southwest Leesburg, I hear the voices of those with whom I formed wonderful relationships, and I feel their spirits with every step I take; knowing them has made me a much stronger and resilient person than I was upon arriving here two decades ago; sharing experiences with outstanding personalities changed me in other ways as well: I gained a deeper sense of empathy for others (and their passions – be it love, fear or hatred), and the lesson of the importance of service to one’s community left a stamp on me I’ll carry for the rest of my days. I was able to lead a local theatre company for a span of 10 years (pretty much the same decade as my tenure at Wage) not so much due to my talent in theatre itself, but from many of the school-of-hard-knocks educational experiences I garnered as a very eager news director. Everyone I met taught me, “This is what life can be like!” for better, or for worse.

And today, as I dream (almost nightly) of my former days in local broadcasting, sometimes it’s just the little things that stick out. I tried my best to quickly learn all the important names and faces in Loudoun County – but we all make mistakes; in one of my first stories on the County Board, I got former Supervisor Chairman Scott York’s name wrong (I think I may have called him Dave) and he pointed it out to me at the next meeting – in private – and he simply laughed it off and let it go at that. I never forgot that – and I never got his name wrong again. On the other hand, I could be sitting down for an interview with (former) Congressman Frank Wolf, or (former) Governor Mark Warner, or even (former) Leesburg Mayor Jim Clem (one of the most memorable and colorful personalities in our local kaleidoscope – in the best of senses), and the station would get a call complaining about lack of news coverage on a power outage affecting perhaps one customer, or a traffic jam on Route Seven (traffic in Northern Virginia – you gotta be kiddin’!); but I learned – even more – that things that strike close to home grab people the most.

Now, in our little tour down Wage Radio Memory Lane I’ve neglected everyone whose names we omitted; I have not yet written that encyclopedia-sized volume. It’s not just an empty brick building. It is filled with Spirits: sometimes my own.

Just Like Nothing (Else) on Earth: George Marshall Center

I used to wonder why – after an assignment to visit the interior of this place, I’d return feeling exhausted – both mentally and physically worn out – as if I’d been carrying an extra couple hundred pounds or so – and gone sleepless for days – for the duration of my stop. Now – jokes about my waistline aside (I’m no Tarzan, but I’m not that rotund!) – and having studied the enormity of responsibilities placed on the former occupant at this address – I no longer marvel at whether my imagination weighed me down – so to speak – or if I actually absorbed some of the former Secretary of State’s energy while touring his house; either way it makes perfect sense to me that I’d feel a bit like Atlas in trying to identify with the late George C. Marshall at Dodona Manor in Leesburg. I’d notice – upon returning from these trips to the quaint little Newsroom at Wage Radio – that my usually bright, peppy energy level (in those days, anyway) had settled into a more contemplative, ‘grandfather-ish,’ and almost dreamy state after communing with the modern-day stewards at the five-star General’s home.

I recall noticing this effect for the first time after I’d been shown the very desk at which George Marshall had penned what would later be called the Marshall Plan – his design for rebuilding Europe after the destructive (yet very necessary) forces of World War II. I remember having some pretty spooky sensations in going over this sequence of events – and I remind you that I’m more high-spirited – and even spiritual – than one quickly jumping to conclusions about spirits and such!

Now – after the benefit of a more objective viewpoint – almost 20 years later – I no longer really care – one way or the other – whether some of the energy of a military genius reached out and grabbed me, or if I simply (and unconsciously) employed some of the more creative juices from my even earlier times on theatre stages in the Midwest and New York. Whatever the case, I’ve gained – over all the intervening years – an ever-increasing respect for the visionary work performed by the former US Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense and head of the Red Cross.

And whatever I felt inside Dodona Manor – and from whatever source it came – I certainly enjoyed a sharp contrast in strolling around the exterior of the place; the expansive yard, guarded by stately trees and softened by the manicured gardens served only to lift the spirit and inspire the soul. Perhaps this was the whole idea behind the General’s passion for cultivation; we heard – in repeated interviews with everyone connected to his activities – that his time spent out in the flowers, vegetables and other greenery took him away from all the stress of Washington, international affairs and world conflicts – and formed a relaxing and revitalizing tonic to the man. I’m thankful that it did – and I trust that not only Dodona Manor and its beautiful grounds – but our larger world – enjoyed the benefits of his regenerating activities.

Now – when I add all this together – the massive workload undertaken by George Marshall – along with his list of accomplishments – and the legacy of this treasured estate and outside grounds – and even my mysterious energy empathies with the spirit of the man – it leaves me recalling that a synonym for our country’s Armed Forces is ‘the Service;’ and I wish we had more leaders – in 21st Century America – with a bit more – or a lot more – of the type of dedication possessed by the former resident at 217 Edwards Ferry Road Northeast. He was very much a product of his time, but also – that era was greatly affected by his efforts.

On my last visit to Dodona Manor, I took the pleasure of taking a leisurely stroll around the exterior of the home – soaking up the calming energies of all the plant life in the yard and gardens – under the warmth of an early-morning sun – and gave thanks that the General and his wife Katherine were able to spend as much time as they did (in the 1940’s and 1950’s) at this little oasis away from Washington and the wars. This was his only permanent home in a lifetime of military engagement on behalf of his country; it’s easy to imagine a resident of Dodona Manor accepting the Nobel Peace Prize; George Marshall was the first-ever professional soldier to do so. You could certainly say that – in eternity – he rests in Peace.

Freedom Park

A great name for a great place, this public space shows us – in my opinion – what’s best about Leesburg, Loudoun County and our country. Freedom Park – just off the Dulles Greenway on the South side of Town – represents – to me – much more than just its 20 acres of land, with a series of athletic fields and support facilities. And this goes back to its very beginning. I remember getting a lump in my throat as Council Members – well over a decade ago now – came up with the idea for this site as the location for the Town’s 911 Memorial – and what better title for the spot than Freedom Park?

I think it’s pretty cool – in an even bigger picture – that we have generations of kids growing up in our locality, and enjoying healthy, athletic activities at a place they can tell their grandchildren about – “Yes, I can remember when I was little, we played baseball, softball and soccer at Freedom Park in Leesburg, Virginia: Now let me tell you a little more about what that name means …” Yeah, all these years after the initial name choice, the goosebumps are still there.

Ironically, the morning I last visited this local facility, the gate was still closed, and I had to make a quick pilgrimage to the 911 Memorial, get a brief overview of the buildings onsite, and then hightail it back to my car at the side of the road. By the way, for those who’ve never been, you’ll find the access on Tolbert Lane off Evergreen Mills Road; the site’s a bit landlocked by its eastern border with the greenway, and Battlefield Parkway to the South.

Now, when you’re touring the facility on foot, you can’t help but notice the name ‘Henry Stowers’ on the impressive field house – done up in a traditional barn style; I’d like to think that Mr Stowers still looks after the land in these parts, just as he did as a farmer – for many years – up until a fatal vehicle accident took his life in December of 2001 (another motorist ran a stop sign and both died in the crash).

Henry Stowers also served on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors back in the 1970’s, as well as a number of agricultural panels – and lent a big hand to local 4-H youth activities. To say he was well-liked by his peers would be understatement. In fact, I could do far worse than nominate his spirit as eternal steward of Freedom Park and those who visit the place, as I trust that those who knew him far better than I would tell you that part of the man is indeed, still here.

This sentiment enlarges and comes full circle in the tasteful Memorial – at Freedom Park – to those who lost their lives in the tragedies of September 11, 2001; we – hopefully – not only remember them and grieve their loss, but also – just possibly – communicate for a brief moment with their essence – the best of what they were – in the deepest of possible empathies. Is this not – after all – at least one sense of eternal life? Truly, their spirit carries on, and I say, kudos for the initiative to place the Marker in the local parcel of land we call Freedom Park. As I stated at the top of this story, a great name for a great place – and – to a great degree – it demonstrates our higher nature, to ourselves as well as to others.

Now, when I was a kid, I played all the usual sports and had a lot of fun, but never grew up to rival Babe Ruth, Jim Brown or LaBron James; likewise, with the majority of our youngsters of today, who learn the lessons of teamwork, fairness – and good, old-fashioned participation in what we call recreation – in play. To paraphrase the cliché, I don’t recall too many victories or losses on my local sandlots or gridirons, but I vividly remember taking part with my neighbors, friends and family, and enjoying boatloads of fun for my efforts. And, yes, I took my share of bloody noses, ‘shiners’ and bruises – and probably even had my ‘bell’ rung a few too many times – but how we enjoyed the sense of freedom to play – (with the avoidance of injury), may it always be so.

South Riding

I should have known that this one would take me far from my contemplative, Zen-inspired comfort zone; after I’d traversed more construction projects than I wanted to tally, competed with hurried, coffee-driven commuters with no time for mere existence, and kept a respectable distance from a fleet of school buses which would have made General Patton proud, I tried to enjoy a few moments of near peace at the South Riding Town Hall and pavilion – way down there in the corner of the County – smack dab in the center of a busy universe of activity. Now – having negotiated the pinball-like series of traffic circles on Route 50 – and successfully avoided all the heavy equipment entering and exiting my route – I felt entitled to just a bit of solace and deep breathing before heading back on the road for my return trip. I needed to hear some of those Tibetan monks, or something. Well, this is South Riding, I thought.

Commuter traffic, school buses and ongoing construction; this still-rapidly-growing community appears much more complete, though, than at the time of my previous visit – probably five years earlier – but certainly hasn’t slowed down its level of activity: if my early-morning weekday appearance represents the standard down here – well, let’s just say that I’d be more relaxed in a beehive. Now, with all this in mind, I want to stress that my first actual visit to the South Riding Town Hall and pavilion (a charming little oasis) was a far cry from my latest; I had (half a decade, or so, ago) interviewed one of our local elected officials one summer Sunday morning, and I was amazed at the tranquility I encountered: Little, if any traffic (commercial and domestic life was just starting to erase their cobwebs), and the most notable activity came in the flock of robins pulling worms out of the dewy lawns. I made a mental note at that time – in bold print – to return and savor the experience at greater length at my own leisure; hmmm – “Funny how things never turn out the way you had ‘em planned,” is one of my favorite Bob Dylan lines, and I can really apply it to my intentions to spend a peaceful Tuesday morning – in the Year 2016 – down at the Town Center in South Riding.

Well, it was my decision to drive there during a weekday rush hour, so maybe I’ll just re-configure my vision to return at some point on another Sunday – or holiday, perhaps – when the workaday world is in neutral mode and I can enjoy that cup of java in some semblance of solitude, stillness and sanity – so I can prove to myself (once again) that our densely populated areas in Loudoun County contain their charm and battery-recharging properties, just like some of the more isolated spots. Ahh, images of this sort makes me feel good already.

And in contemplating the meditative, satori-esque side of South Riding, I recall my first-ever on-site visit to this new community; it came back in 2005- when the local Supervisors and officials in the public safety industry celebrated a groundbreaking for the then-incoming Public Safety Center. I remember a warm, sunny September day with scenes of lots of unused space, lots of open views of the horizon – but also many acres of freshly turned over Virginia clay – denoting incoming houses in the numbers one sees only in places like Loudoun County. The drive – that day over a decade ago – from Leesburg and back was much less congested, and I remember thinking that it’d be nice to come back some time in the future (like now) and visit when the neighborhood feels more like – well, a neighborhood. And – you know? It does.

And if you care to show up on a weekday morning during the school year, you’ll get a chance to see everybody in action. And I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Just pay attention to where you’re going and keep in mind that a lot of those other guys are in a hurry. If I’m there, I hope I prove the exception.

Oatlands Plantation

It was one of those warm evenings in mid to late July – when the air feels almost as thick as honey, but you don’t even mind, because you’re in a beautiful place, enjoying a unique cultural event in about the coolest setting in the world. My first visit to Oatlands – in the summer of 1997 – I checked out a performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream by one of the local theatre troupes; they used the front of the Greek Revival mansion for the opening sequence- appropriately set at the Athenian Capitol, and some of the later forest scenes utilized the surrounding greenery. If there were a better way to charm a famous local landmark into one’s heart, I’m unaware of it; Oatlands Plantation became – and has since remained, for me – synonymous with grace, character – and maybe even a little magic and fantasy thrown in for good measure.

Now – I realize that there are a myriad of perspectives on this historic site – including its challenge to remain pure and intact in the face of the developers’ bulldozers, its coming to terms with the past (including acknowledgement of the use of slave labor), and the never-ending effort to offer its guests a one-of-a-kind experience in tourism that will spread by word of mouth and keep its visitors returning for more. I heard, saw and read about all of the above – at great length – during my 10 years in the little newsroom at Wage Radio in Leesburg; our owner at the time – Jerry Emmet’s family had donated Oatlands – in the mid-1960’s – to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I remember thinking, “What could be better than having a direct family tie to one of my favorite places in Northern Virginia – or anywhere else, for that matter?” I gradually learned more about the extended history of Oatlands – dating back to the opening years of the 19th Century – its immense size at the time (over 3,400 acres during homesteader George Carter’s day), the variety of structures on the property (including an 1810 greenhouse – one of the oldest in the country) and the importance of Oatlands in regional tourism (to the tune of over 60,000 annual visitors from one of my tallies in the old newsroom). Its image even made its way – some years back – onto the ‘Greetings From Virginia’ stamp.

I made new discoveries about the place – and its history – with each assignment. I was utterly charmed by the stories of how the Carter family children spent their Christmas times at the mansion and the surrounding grounds. I attended events at the site devoted to historic land preservation, local tourism, and even a real, live auction in which the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce sold an entire herd of life-sized, decorated horses (some of which still grace various parts of our area). I witnessed – with some concern – the tug of war between the will to develop the adjacent lands around Oatlands, and the protective defense set up by its Board of Directors. The story of this Plantation – over its many years – has not always been light or easy.

But — for— me — the continuous, virtual onslaught of historical information and overwhelming, ongoing popularity never tainted the original charm of the place; I always kind of felt like my emotional connections to the site granted me some sort of honorary, personal ownership – even if only in the heart. Through the process of becoming better acquainted with Oatlands’ images, grounds and deeper story the grandeur remained; the soul of the place always retained its mysterious spell for me.

So- I have, indeed, to paraphrase the Bard- had a most rare vision. That warm night in July — now years gone — began with a scene from one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays — with lovers’ anticipation, jarring conflict, mortal threat, and finally — escape into a magical world. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, imagination eventually prevails over the harsher confinements of governmental and societal will and expediency; likewise, the archetypal- but to us, familiar — mansion of Oatlands rises above and survives the varied travails of its ongoing history. May it always remain a frequent visitor to my nights’— and days’— dreams — of all seasons. Not for an age, but for all time. Lord, what (beautiful) fools (we) mortals (can sometimes) be!

Robinson Park

Looking back, now – I’m glad it wasn’t what most people would’ve considered a nice day; I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my share of hot and sunny to last me for at least a generation (especially since my ‘office’ is right out in the street where you may live). No – the morning of my last visit to Robinson Park in Northeast Leesburg, the conditions were memorably cool, cloudy, and even a little windy. The day hadn’t really gotten started yet (you would’ve been hard-pressed to say just exactly where the sun was – somewhere behind all those greyish masses marching across a dark sky), and I recall moving with a definite purpose of generating a little personal warmth out of the situation. Now, all this may serve as evidence to keep most of us safe at home under similar weather; for me – I’ve long preferred the sort of day that comes right up and introduces itself (even working outside – as long as I survive the experience, I look back at elemental inclemency as at least stimulating – if not always ‘fun’ at the time).

Now – a walk around Robinson Park isn’t exactly a remote, wilderness excursion, is it? The small, scattered stands of trees and the culverted little part-time brook serve as about the only outstanding natural features, with the ballfields and manicured grass looking pretty tame; so, a little challenge from the climactic conditions came as a welcome distraction from the surrounding domesticity.

But I was still outside, after all – exposed to whatever the skies chose to throw my way. So, the antemeridian perambulation left its indelible mark on me: Literally – I had goosebumps and raised hairs from the low temperatures, and figuratively – my sense memory being more accurate than that of the mere intellect – I can still ‘feel’ my way back there in time and enjoy it all over again– like, right now. And, if the human race retains any of the herd and flock instincts of the ‘lower’ creatures (Ever wonder how a swarm of blackbirds can all change direction in the same instant?) you can get an inkling of the experience for yourself. And, I just may possess a better mental picture of Robinson Park’s 10 acres, athletic fields, walking trail, gentle sloping hill, picnic tables, nearby Leesburg Elementary School and surrounding Exeter neighborhood because of Mother Nature’s participation in the event.

And – who knows? Maybe next time it’ll even be raining; one can only hope. So, if you should see a strange character out there walking the perimeter some early – wet – possibly cold – morning, it could be yours truly – out for a stroll when any ‘sensible person’ would be safely tucked in at home. Not that I would disagree – much of the time – with those instincts, but I really do feel like that local walking path makes up a portion of what I consider my enlarged ‘home.’ OK, Robinson stands a bit more out of the way for me than Brandon Park or Olde Izaak Walton – and it’s certainly far under the radar of the more popular Ida Lee – but I will keep it filed away under my list of places to stop and enjoy the atmospheric rewards of whatever moments find me in that part of town. And if it’s inclement enough, I may even leave my electronic device in the car – truly ‘roughing it,’ as Mark Twain might have said. And, as I pull my hat brim down a bit to shield my face from whatever’s falling from the clouds, I just may be thinking, “My, what a nice day!”

I’d like to think that the perfect Robinson Park experience still lies out there – somewhere – in my future; the same holds true for the rest of my favored – and, even undiscovered – local places. The dawn is on the horizon; we may as well strap on our boots and go out to greet it.

Aren’t you gonna come? We’re just about there, now…

Dulles Air and Space Museum

You ever have those dreams, that (back – probably when you were a kid) you could fly? Not in any kind of man-made craft, mind you – I mean possessing the ability to levitate and travel the skies at will. It’s an exhilarating, empowering feeling. I guess about the closest I’ve come to enjoying that sensation during waking hours is whenever I visit the Air and Space Museum at Dulles – the Smithsonian’s Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center.

Walking around in the presence of so much aviation technology – soaking up all the energies of various air and space craft in those massive hangars – I’ve almost felt my feet lift off the floor and let my arms do the walking. And even if it’s all just my imagination (not too hard to believe, I know), it’s still pretty cool.

Little wonder that I’d engender the place with so much magical capacity: I watched this behemoth grow up – from a bare patch of ground (after clearing the landscape of trees), to a skeleton of metal spires, to a series of finished buildings – outfitted with all the accoutrements of a 21st Century Smithsonian attraction. As a local media representative (from the good, old Wage Radio Newsroom in Leesburg), I had the enjoyment of covering the story of its development from the planning stages up through its construction and opening- as well as following any major events connected to this shrine to human endeavor.

I loved talking to the Smithsonian folks on hand, too – including Museum Director (and Four-Star General) ‘Jack’ Dailey, and the late World War II fighter ace Don Lopez (one of the original Flying Tigers); I also enjoyed chatting with some of the characters to whom I was introduced: Astronaut and Senator John Glenn (who told me what it was like to orbit the Earth), as well as some famous actor-guy who came in to narrate the Grand Opening – John Travolta (all pumped up for movie roles at the time – he looked ‘as big as a refrigerator’); I talked with all these people about essentially the same thing: the passion for flight which convened us in this common time and place. I also fondly recall touring this facility with my family (during the extended Opening Ceremonies in December, 2003) – to commemorate the Smithsonian’s Salute to Military Aviation Veterans – since my Dad had served in World War II, as an aerial gunner and bombardier for the US Naval Air Force.

Time and space collapse back to 2003, then to 2016, and we’re back to a keyboard, a screen, and images from history. Funny how this cavernous building filled with flying machines stir up all these memories of fathers and sons – and moms and daughters – sweeping shapes and heroic acts – as well as tragic loss; it’s a place – for me – where, somehow our combined energies seem in union. The industry’s greatest pioneers, after all, touch the limits of relativity.

This walk through the Valhalla of flight is also just plain cool and fun: Speaking of which – what’s Travolta’s favorite plane in the Museum? Mr. Saturday Night Fever told me that he was enchanted by the sheer class of a mid-sized piece of commercial aviation from the late 1930’s: the restored Boeing 307 ‘Stratoliner’- the first pressurized airliner.

And – you remember that Curtiss P-40 ‘Flying Tiger’ posed in a mock dog-fight with a blue, tilted-wing Corsair – guarding the entrance? The former is named for the craft flown by our late friend Don Lopez, while the latter represents the plane flown by Jack Dailey’s father in World War II.

And, my favorite ‘toy’ in the place has to be the ‘Blackbird’ – perched ominously at the foot of the stairs as we walked in; Lockheed’s SR-71 still holds the record for the fastest ‘conventional’ airplane (despite its extreme unconventionality); I was there when the Smithsonian folks (very slowly) wheeled it in; I interviewed its former pilots, and I’ve been haunted by images of this big, black, ice-pick shaped aircraft – now sitting peacefully on the floor of the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles.

And you? Go there and generate some of your own dreams.

Just Like Nothing (Else) On Earth: Balch Library

By Tim Jon

Solitude, peace, and quiet: Not exactly the first three adjectives I’d choose to describe the greater portion of downtown Leesburg, although its charms do shine through even on the busiest of weekday afternoons. The last morning I visited the grounds of Balch Library, on West Market Street, though, I enjoyed a sense of isolation in a beautifully-kept setting, amid – pretty much – total silence. I imagine that’s just about what to expect on any given Sunday dawn at that spot – and for me, the experience proves well worth the effort of rising before the chickens.

A short, quick, but relaxing stroll around the historic building can certainly provide a different outlook on your day than merely watching the morning news from your living room couch. The images of graceful architecture set amid a green lawn and surrounding trees, separated a respectable distance from the street by a shaded walkway, augmented by the friendly gurgle of the fountain in the west side reading garden create a sanctuary-like atmosphere, yet still exposed to whatever elements Mother Nature chooses to provide at that particular moment.

I’d been inside the actual structure quite a few times during my tenure as a resident in the County Seat – including some research – a few years back, now – in developing scenarios for some of the Town’s entertaining, August Court Trial events; the facility offers a surprising wealth of resources in local and personal history. The interior possesses its own visual charms, too: Images of local history grace the walls, the furnishings complement the surrounding architecture, and you’re sure to find a comfortable, quiet, well-lit spot to sit and read for a couple of hours. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the place crowded with visitors. The relaxed – and relaxing – atmosphere can certainly remove the stress brought on by the bypass or your boss.

And, in these days of instant information just a fingertip away on your electronic device, I find it absolutely refreshing that Leesburg maintains this library as a public resource, concentrating on Loudoun County and Virginia history and genealogy – where you can gain first-hand experience, in the flesh, with a real book, or map, or – get this – an actual human being. And – yes – I’m quite aware that Balch Library also offers a vast array of computerized information resources; I understand and appreciate that, but it’s not what attracts me to the place.

The structure itself dates back close to a hundred years, and the relatively recent addition takes nothing away from the original; it’s one-of-a-kind, dignified and charming – refreshing characteristics in a world of increasingly cookie-cutter construction. I find it a great place to dig into local lore – or to look up your family’s ancestry, or to attend a public event, or just to settle in with a favorite book and do some composed, yet inspired reading; and, if it’s a nice day, I may not even step inside. In a community which prides itself on sophisticated gentility and (whether it’s a battlefield, a family heirloom, a book or just a good story) the preservation of history, the Thomas Balch Library represents (for me) a place pretty close to the heart of what’s best about Loudoun County and the Town of Leesburg.
Grace, dignity and the unexpectedly casual: Those were my impressions as I toured the outside of the facility that warm, sunny morning; clean, white, flawless pillars offered the formality, and that spritzing fountain provided the sense of lively, playful, and reassuring engagement of simple, beneficent, elemental forces at hand. That level of subtle grandeur – quite difficult to achieve – makes it a unique place – in a community filled with beautiful, historic, cultural richness.

You probably won’t see me enjoying the atmosphere at Balch Library very often, though; I’m too busy slogging through my daily grinds in order to earn a living. Fortunately for me, the images and experiences permeate far enough, and stick tightly enough, to travel with me through the workaday world – and into the subconscious dreamtime of nocturnal slumber. Those architects and designers must have done something right.

Maybe I’ll see you – in my mind’s eye – as I make my conceptual visits to these places; whether by night or day. As Bob Dylan said, “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.”

Potoma Wayside

My advice is: Don’t look straight down; the combination of rushing highway traffic a couple of feet away and, what’s – to me, anyway – a dizzying height, can produce some unsettling sensations. I came to this conclusion after walking back and forth across the river bridge on Route 340 between Virginia and Maryland from one of my newest discoveries in our local treasure chest: Potoma Wayside. Yeah, that’s Potoma, not Potomac – I checked and double-checked the sign. Oddly enough, I’d been just about a hundred yards away countless times – delivering mail at the gas station right at the intersection with Route 671 – Harpers Ferry Road – and had never noticed this little roadside access point nestled in the greenery.

Having eyed the spot on our 21st Century internet mapping services, I figured it just may provide some interesting views of the surrounding geography: Loudoun Heights, the Potomac River and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. My hunches were confirmed as I navigated the bridge on a chilly, windy (but clear) morning; not a very peaceful walk, what with tractor trailers whizzing by so fast I didn’t want to look at them – I just heard the scream of rushing air, tires and machinery as they literally sped by – it made some of my glances down at the River more than a little unnerving, but the adrenalin got the better of me and I embraced the experience. Suspended on that metal structure, one is rewarded with lots of inspiring sights: The sky being the predominant feature, followed by the moving water below, broken up – quite unceremoniously – by the up-jutting rocky bottom, then you’ll come to notice the rolling hills in just about every direction, and – off to the west about a mile or so – the charming silhouette of historic Harpers Ferry.

In fact, I enjoyed the views of the little Town enough to re-cross the bridge about half-way on the upstream side – just to gain a better look, unobstructed by the metal span and the rushing vehicles. Having filed about a hundred shots on my camera (and countless more on my own feeble memory card) and finally admitting that the heights, and the moving traffic, and the cold, and the wind were creating a combined tilt-o-whirl effect on my system, I headed back to my version of civilization: My vehicle and a good cup of coffee.

Now, I’d noticed a walking trail or two heading down through the trees toward the water’s edge, but time and practicality won out and I decided to leave those discoveries for another visit. It may be awhile before I find myself back at Potoma Wayside – way up at the northern limit of our County – but I trust that when I go, it’ll still offer access to that bridge with those incredible views of all that sky, and the rocky, moving water, and the gentle rolling hills, and that little, historic Town to the west where tragic events had come to loggerheads – not only in John Brown’s raid – catalyzing the Civil War – but numerous times during that ensuing conflict. Funny – now – how peaceful it looks – especially from my recent vantage point – as it rests there under the protective shoulders of the nearby hills, at the confluence of those two rivers – the Shenandoah and the Potomac.
I guess time and distance can do that for a lot of situations – seemingly enormous when they occur – appearing at least slightly less overwhelming from a second, or safer, or somehow different perspective. So I can cross the Route 340 Bridge concerned only with today’s lesser hazards of whizzing traffic and dizzying heights – not the roar of not-so-distant gunfire; I imagine I’m joined by countless others in numberless locations across our globe – enjoying the peace allowed by the distance of time – and the selfless efforts of those who ensured the outcomes would allow these later experiences. And for those as yet unable to cross those bridges in peace, they can at least witness the countless examples which show them the way.
If the distance of time can’t heal all wounds, it’s a pretty good start. Just take a look around the slopes of Loudoun Heights, and on the waters of the Potomac River, and in the little Town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Where have you been today?

Foxridge Park

You know, I can still taste those sausages: The first early-spring bratwurst cooked over an open flame in a beautiful setting among good friends; nothing so surprising, really, in recalling a good meal in classic context. The thing is, though – I was propelled back more decades than I care to admit – and transported roughly a thousand miles across our nation – back to the banks of the Mississippi River. Good grilling can do that to you.

See – I was standing next to the open pit brick oven at the pavilion in Foxridge Park – just down the street from my house in Leesburg; I’d busied myself in trying to imagine all the fun-filled neighborhood and family meals cooked on that massive contraption: Hamburgers, hot dogs, probably some burned chicken somewhere along the way – and most likely, some pretty darn good steaks, too. Yup, I’d made a quick walking tour of the grassy slopes of the Park, kicked around some of the dust at the ball field, wandered through the small stand of trees out near Catoctin Circle, and then made my pilgrimage to this little shrine of American cooking.

All of a sudden I was in fantasy land – guided across the years and miles to stand once again along the Father of Waters, with my college room-mate Rick, an adult beverage or two in our hands, with some hastily-grilled meat on a bun. I really hadn’t planned this imaginary outing; I just wanted to do some mild exploring of a local site in Loudoun County, Virginia: Take some photos, gather some new experiences, nurture a few unique (new) memories in order to share another story about my outdoor excursions in these parts. So, I claim no responsibility in the matter of those bratwurst (I think actually, it was the smell of the old coals, a bit of grease on the grill grates and years of wood-smoke lathered onto those bricks that did it) from Saint Anthony Park along the Mighty Mississip.’

If I were a star baseball player in my youth, perhaps I’d have been flooded with memory as I stood next to the diamond that quiet Sunday morning: I’d have remembered games played, opponents beaten or not, fellow players who’d left impressions. Yes, if I had dealt with our world in other ways, with other experience, I’d possess a vastly different memory bank from which to draw forth little treasures from the past; however, I was left holding that tasty meal on a cool spring evening in Minnesota.

And as I stood there – at the brick-oven grill at Foxridge Park, present-day – I started wondering how many other, memorable times were preserved right under that pavilion – for local kids growing up in Leesburg, for the Moms and Dads who made those experiences happen, for the friends and neighbors who showed up to lend a hand, to laugh and tell stories, to share in that well-cooked meal made over an open flame. And then I thought, all those memories will perform their own little time and space travel on some of those folks – decades later, perhaps- as they enjoy retirement in a milder climate, or study for college exams on some distant campus, or start a new career far across the country.

And, as the rest of us ‘Leesburgians’ pass by Foxridge Park on Catoctin Circle on early mornings or late evenings, and see the empty pavilion and unattended grill, we may think, “Hm – it’s empty – no one’s there.” And most would agree. But, if you ask some of those gifted – or wacky – daydreamers across our nation – who long ago may have had a great time at an outdoor barbecue at this little, local gathering place – they may tell you a different story. “No, “they’ll say, “I was right there, eating that wonderful hamburger my Mom made, listening to that great story from my Uncle, watching my sister play in the grass.”

And, so it goes with all of our neighborhood ‘memory-makers’ that we may see as unpeopled at certain times of the day or season; just don’t be too sure that it’s as empty as it seems. And make sure that your family, circle of friends, neighborhood and community have their own ‘Foxridge Parks’ where you can plant the seeds of memorable experience – and, if I’m not stretching the metaphor too thin – to draw from at a later date, as we would reap the fall crop.

So – what do you remember as you stand at the big, brick-oven grill under that pavilion on the little hill?

Temple Hall Farm

I only met the late AV (Val) Symington once; it was a Sunday evening in my first year or two at Wage Radio (this would be the late ‘90’s) and I was putting things in order for the next morning’s news broadcast, when the doorbell rang. Now, it could have been just about anyone: A fellow employee who forgot his key, a local resident wanting help with a lost dog, a commercial client dropping off a check, a high school student seeking an internship, or someone with a potential news tip. But, in this case, I opened the door to find a charming little lady in an old work coat, glasses and a pair of rubber boots, driving an older model station wagon; she introduced herself as a former part-owner of the long-time, local radio station in Leesburg. We probably chatted for 20 minutes or so during our short tour of the building; we discovered a mutual love of hometown charm and character, I think she mentioned her enjoyment of Stokes Tomlin’s Classics in the Morning Show – and then we said our goodbyes, and AV drove off in her ‘clunker.’

Little did I guess that this ingenuous senior was also incredibly generous and about as well off as one could respectably be; the late Ms Symington eventually willed multiples of millions of dollars for the support of several local projects – Ida Lee Park, Oatlands Plantation, Loudoun Country Day School, Rust Library and Temple Hall Farm Regional Park. She had already donated the acreage at the latter facility in the mid-1980’s, upon the death of her husband, James; they had owned and operated Temple Hall Farm back in the heyday of 20th Century Loudoun County agriculture. So, I had a very healthy personal and professional connection with the story of this grand lady at the time of her passing, and memories of her life and legacy would generally surface each time I’d pass Limestone School Road on Route 15 north of Leesburg; you could guess, then, that I may have been just a bit wistful as I made a recent Visit to Temple Hall Farm – more than 10 years after AV’s passing, and approaching a decade since my tenure ended as News Director at Wage Radio.

A bit wistful, maybe – but also a good deal invigorated and inspired; I was happy to be able to enjoy a morning walk about this local park – preserved (in our 21st Century, Northern Virginia manner) as an old-fashioned working farm – and also experience a sense of gratefulness for my own relatively vigorous constitution and good fortunes. Having lost a disproportionately large number of our former ‘Family’ from the old Wage Radio, and being cognizant and understanding enough to appreciate the struggles of some of my friends and neighbors in trying to seek ‘a living,’ I was able – in that foggy, pre-dawn light – to offer thanks and praises for the forces that allowed me to be – period. As Rolling Stone Keith Richards has said: “Good to be here, good to be anywhere!” And we mean it.

Now, when the Symington’s lived and worked at Temple Hall Farm, I’ll bet that there were times of heavy labor, of sweat, turmoil and challenge; there were also times of discovery, joy, thankfulness and bounty. This facility, then, is a great example for our present-day world; our path through life may have periods as tumultuous as a river rapids, some as tranquil as a tidal delta, others a manageable in-between, and some of tragic loss. Life on a farm teaches us about the annual harvest cycle, the threat of crop failure, the daily regimen of animal husbandry, benefits of irrigation, the importance of soil retention and enrichment, innovative stock breeding and plant propagation – and most of all – the human ethics gained through good, honest (and often, very) hard work. Industry, service and even exhaustion often come with the territory; with the perspective of irony, they can be seen as our very rewards.

So, when you and your loved ones visit Temple Hall Farm, remember that that beautiful horse’s stall needs to be mucked out, the straw in the turkey roost needs changing, the post-harvest fields require plowing, fertilizing and planning for next spring, the sheep probably need shearing, the machinery takes periodic maintenance and repair, and even the farmhouse may need re-shingling or painting. And the workers would most likely appreciate a hot meal. Yes, it’s pretty, and the animals are charming, and the views of the open fields are inspiring, and these benefits are all wonderful – to be enjoyed after the expenditure of great time and effort. And this is good.

Thanks, AV.

Georgetown Park

The thing I first noticed upon making an actual visit to this place was: It actually has a babbling brook. If you walk along the path toward the western end of Georgetown Park, I found that the level of water complemented the scattered rocks strewn in its bed so as to maintain a constant ‘chatter.’ Pretty cool, I thought. The usually humble Town Branch pretty much parallels the W and OD Trail in this section of the community; maybe the ‘running water’ encourages the small army of joggers, bikers and walkers out here to keep moving along.
The Park seemed larger to me than just its official half-acre, maybe due to its elongated configuration – stretching east and west, with those lines of liquid, grass, brick and blacktop emphasizing its length. Now, I’m not sure if there really is a traffic-free time of day along this part of King Street, so you need to look both ways if you decide to cross over to the other side of the bridge; I was drawn to the more ‘non-vehicular’ sections of the location, with some mature trees, landscaped flower beds, walking trails and benches. The natural amenities here offer a bit more of a sense of seclusion the further you get from the ‘main drag’ out near the little bridge. If I had to get any serious reading done out here, I’d opt for one of the benches along South Street, rather than the more exposed specimens: Even Herman Melville wouldn’t stand much of a chance against all the distracting movement out on the road. But, on the other hand, if one wanted to select a prime viewing point for one of the local events which pass this way every several months – the annual Halloween, Fourth of July and Christmas Parades – well, then – give me one of those vantage points as close as possible to King Street – to be able to look the participants in the eye and cheer them on in their progress. Having participated in many of these marches – on foot and by motor – I always found it a refreshing bit of the journey to pass over the Town Branch at this spot. Even the daily motorists throughout the rest of the year may find it just a wee bit of a respite in their commute – sliding past this slip of a Park in a brief moment – then returning to the rigors of other traffic along the way.

And, in another variety of passing by, imagine the march of time over the past several centuries – as seen from this same bridge along King Street. How it must have looked – back in 1757 – for instance – when the original founders divvied up the first 60 acres – 70 lots – which they – on first inspiration – dubbed ‘George Town?’ Officially renamed Leesburg the following year – imagine the tumult in the community – and let’s just say this present-day Georgetown Park spot in particular – during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 (when Leesburg – for a flickering moment in our nation’s history – served as an impromptu site for the National Archives of the then-young United States), the lengthy years of the Civil War (when this same County Seat of Loudoun reportedly exchanged hands – between the North and South – some hundred and fifty times), then across the days of what we now call ‘modern warfare’ of World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and the Post 9/11 days of today. Then – consider the restorative times of peaceful healing for humankind – as seen from this one small spot in the Historic District of a place we once knew as George Town: the days of the Declaration of Independence, the Inaugurations of our greatest Presidents, the Emancipation Proclamation and continued struggle for rights, privileges and dignity for all peoples, the inspiration for and implementation of the Marshall Plan – drawn up by one of the more prominent of our Town’s residents (with Dodona Manor just several stones’ throws away from this same Georgetown Park site), or the Monroe Doctrine (penned a few miles down the Old Carolina Road) – and, very humbly I lastly submit this recent narrative – knocked out on my home keyboard barely a half-mile from our beloved Georgetown Park – and the entire cycle completed by your gracious reading of same.

Now – who’s to describe this local feature as a mere half-acre of land – barely 20 yards wide – when it’s participated thusly in our lives? I give you Georgetown Park, Leesburg Virginia.

Second Bull Run

It may not have been a battle, but – seeing as how it was my second attempt at getting a good look at Bull Run Creek – coupled with the fact that I’m a native Northerner – I felt a bit skittish as I headed down that little dirt road to encounter the unknown. See – I’d looked as closely as I could at my computer mapping for the end of the line on Peach Tree Lane – way down on the Southern border of Loudoun County – and it looked as if the narrow gravel corridor just sort of dead-ended at the water line; driving to the spot that day, as I recognized some of the landmarks that signaled I was getting close, I slowed down to a crawl, and, as I rounded the last corner, my suspicions were confirmed: I’d found Bull Run Creek, alright – and I’d also found another location in our gnarly little locality where a roadway travels underwater.

Yep, I’d guess that the rocky bottom lay about a foot or foot and a half under the surface of the little waterway; I could have been wrong, though – maybe it was three feet at the deepest – and I wasn’t going to try to ford the 20 or 30 foot span with my vehicle – at least not unless somebody had a hefty check waiting for me on the other side. I did – however – take the opportunity to walk the few feet to the water’s edge, listen to the friendly little gurgle as the liquid slipped over the exposed roots, rocks and fallen branches, and imagine my way along as the famous little Creek made its way Southeastward – where – in just a few miles – it would join up with its historically important Sister – Little Bull Run – which skirts the edges of Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The morning of my visit was quite pleasant: Cool and quiet, with a bit of mist on the surface of the Creek as the dawn started turning on the lights and waking up the neighborhood. I could hear the rattle of kingfishers as they waited for enough light to catch their breakfast, and a drowsy blue heron hoisted its stilt-like legs out of the water and navigated its way downstream. No busy commuters, however, followed my journey to the Creekside to judge the depth and current before making a run for the other side; I do reckon, though, that some of the ‘natives’ in their semi-domesticated ‘monster trucks’ make this crossing all the time – except, maybe, just after a visit from some tropical-storm remnant passing up the East Coast.

For my part, I – perhaps a bit ingloriously – beat my not-so-hasty retreat by backing out along the narrow stretch of Peach Tree Lane to the nearest driveway, turned around and returned to more civilized surroundings. I did, however, make another approach to Bull Run: In a right-hand sweeping drive that could have (in my dreams) made ol’ Stonewall Jackson proud, I actually crossed the little waterway a bit further downstream – by way of the one-lane bridge along Route 705 – better known as Lightridge Farm Road. This truly is a narrow span, and the traffic tends to move along here at a pretty good clip, so it’s not the best place stop and enjoy the scenery, but you do get a good glimpse at the little Creek – as it continues to the Southeast – to eventually cross Gum Spring Road – before leaving Loudoun’s border and joining her more famous sister.

And that’s where I’d tried to get a look at Bull Run in the first place – a couple of years back – along Route 659 – right about at the Southeastern tip of the County; my journey turned up little more, though, than busy commuter traffic, construction projects, abandoned properties, and all the other fruits of a genuine ‘snipe hunt.’ So – my second attempt at Bull Run – however anti-climactic, anti-heroic and undramatic – at least lacked the defeat, disorganization, tragedy and embarrassment of the two campaigns waged here some one hundred 60 years back by quite a number of my fellow Northerners. God rest their souls – and those of their at-that–time adversaries.

Bull Run Creek and her sibling – Little Bull Run – these days – run quiet and peaceful – and may this always be the case.